You may have heard that shopping for health insurance under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul will be like using Travelocity or Amazon. But many people will end up with something more mundane than online shopping, like a call to the help desk. Struggling with a deadline crunch, some states are delaying online tools that could make it easier for consumers to find the right plan when the markets go live on Oct. 1. Ahead of open enrollment for millions of uninsured Americans, the feds and the states are investing in massive call centers. "The description that this was going to be like Travelocity was a very simplistic way of looking at it," said Christine Ferguson, director of the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange.
Now they tell us. Indeed, it was simplistic and misleading all along, but that's exactly how the law's advocates have been peddling it to the public and credulous journalists for years. For that reason, many Americans may be expecting a shiny new "Expedia for my healthcare!" system to be up and running by October. Here's what they'll actually get:
The experience will be more like buying a new car than snapping up airline tickets on Travelocity or electronics on Amazon...It's a complicated transaction with different components, including arranging financing and picking the right product, each with its own choices and trade-offs. You may need a glossary of health insurance terms. And there's another layer. One part of the process involves applying for federal benefits - with consequences if you lie to the government, or maybe just make a mistake.
Or, you know, not. Nonpartisan experts have been anticipating delays in the development and deployment of the state exchanges, which would represent the latest mishap in a glum parade of logistical snags. It's already happening:
"The bottom line is that with tight timelines ... states have had to scale back their initial ambitions for Day 1," said Paul Hencoski, leader of KPMG's government health practice, which is advising nearly 20 states. "A lot of the more sophisticated functionalities that might have been offered through the Web are being deferred to later phases." When the markets first open, Hencoski said, "there will be a significant amount of manual processing of things that will later be automated." Translation: emails, phone calls, faxes. The Obama administration, which will be running the markets or taking the lead in 35 states, has yet to demonstrate the technology platform that will help consumers get financial help with their premiums and pick a plan.
MKH has been tracking the feds' progress, or lack thereof, on this front for some time. Now, just a few months removed from 'go time,' they still haven't even debuted their technology platform. Once they finally do so, do you think it might contain some bugs? Incidentally, the AP story bemoans "tight deadlines" and "the refusal of congressional Republicans to provide more implementation funds." Guess who imposed those timetables and (very high) levels of expenditure? Democrats -- who are one hundred percent responsible for this law. Yet despite their supposed funding shortage, the Obama administration is still gearing up for a $700 million marketing campaign to promote their unpopular program, with taxpayers footing the bill. What they won't tell you in the ads you're paying for is that millions of younger, healthier Americans -- the primary targets of the PR blitz -- are going to pay "drastically" higher rates under Obamacare:
The anticipated rates under Obamacare are far more expensive than the existing rates for a healthy 30 year-old. Starting next year, a 30 year-old earning $35,000 per year would have to pay $2,739 annually for a cheap “bronze plan” on the new health insurance exchanges, even after receiving subsidies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator. That’s more expensive than any state in the current system, and seven times more expensive than in the cheapest state, Nebraska, where premiums are currently as low as $349 annually. Even an otherwise comparable 30 year-old earning $25,000 next year, who would qualify for more generous Obamacare subsidies, would have to pay $1,142 annually for a “bronze plan.” That’s still more expensive than current cheap rates in 45 states, and double the current cost in 19 states. Importantly, under the current system, with these insurance rates available, not enough young and health people purchase insurance to offset the costs of covering those with pre-existing conditions. As Bloomberg’s Lisa Lerer & Alex Wayne have reported, “For the president’s plan to succeed, almost 40 percent of the 7 million people targeted in the first year need to be young, healthy adults to balance the cost of insuring older people at higher risk of illness.” That means that the Obama administration has to convince nearly 3 million young and healthy Americans to purchase insurance by offering them drastically higher rates than the current market — the one from which they’re currently opting out.
Perhaps Beyonce and friends can persuade millions of young people to buy very expensive policies that mandate coverage many of them don't need. Perhaps not. I'll leave you with another reality intrusion that probably won't make it into Obamacare's slick, taxpayer-funded commercials:
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography